FLABmag: When did you start this project and why is it called “Publicist”?
Sebastian: I started creating Publicist maybe 5 years ago, but it was not a priority back then. I did a handful of shows but I didn’t get serious about it until 3 years ago. I chose Publicist because I wanted a name that sounded like an individual, not like a band or a concept. And I thought that Hollywood publicists have a ridiculous job, which somehow appealed to me.
FLABmag: Do you get a lot of fans of Trans Am coming to the shows and do they ask you to play TA songs?
Sebastian: I would say no. There are usually only a couple of Trans Am fans at my shows, depending where the shows are. As I play night clubs sometimes there are no Trans Am fans at all. And no, I never get any Trans Am requests! That would be pretty weird I think.
FLABmag: Some of the songs you played the other night are reminiscent of TA, which seems reasonable given the amount of time you’ve dedicated to that band, however, to what extent, aside from the obvious, is this project more singular to your personal expression?
Sebastian: Personally I think the similarities are in the instrumentation (drums, synths, and vocoder) and that’s maybe where it stops for me. In fact there are only some Trans Am songs that share that instrumentation. Trans Am is a wide ranging, complex musical institution that can touch on music as disparate as folk and metal. Publicist is specifically a dance music project, the EPs I make are designed for DJs and my sets are designed as a non stop set.
FLABmag: I was surprised and thrilled to see you were set up right on the floor, instead of the stage, does that happen often or was that some quirk/directive from the venue?
Sebastian: That is something I try to do intentionally every time I play. It’s on my contract! I am trying to recreate the feeling you get at a really great house party, in someone’s loft or basement, and those parties never have stages. For me stages create a barrier between performer and spectator and that is more appropriate to symphonic music than to a party. I want people around me dancing, not looking up at me.
FLABmag: Do you enjoy having the crowd that close? What about the Asian dude who kept blowing flash directly into your face? That has to get old!
Sebastian: Actually I don’t remember that at all! Yes I enjoy the crowd. As long as they don’t fuck with the gear they can do whatever they want. I like crowd interaction. I’ve had multiple women lick my back and arms at shows! If I didn’t like a crowd of people enjoying themselves I wouldn’t write this kind of music!
FLABmag: I saw you had all sorts of what looked like mics taped into your ear, on your snare and bass drum. Obviously the mics on the kit are for amplification but what was taped into your ear?
Sebastian: Actually those weren’t mics on the kick and snare, they were triggers. These are hooked up to a drum module that generates electronic kick and snare sounds whenever I hit those drums. I use those because a) I want my drum parts to sound slightly synthetic and b) I don’t travel with a sound man and this way I can have a consistent good kick sound no matter what drum or mic or PA I use. I also use in-ear monitors that have a click track that is synched to the synths. That way it doesn’t matter if the monitors aren’t great. I like to be prepared for any kind of live situation.
FLABmag: I noticed you had four moon gels on the snare as dampeners, but to what extent do they change the tone and/or is there a specific objective you obtain from using them? How do they change and/or enhance the sound you’re going for?
Sebastian: I’m making club music, and in any kind of club music (except maybe for drum and bass which I am not doing) a ring-y snare just gets in the way. In fact the snare is demoted in club music and is secondary to the kick. Think of disco records, the snare is always dead and deep. So with the four moon gels I can get that sound, plus when I’m traveling it almost doesn’t matter what snare I use.
FLABmag: You’ve mentioned before you don’t generally tour with your studio kit but I assumed you meant you don’t tour Europe with it…was this your kit or did the house provide it?
Sebastian: Because Phil from Trans Am lives in SF we do have a little bit of gear on the west coast. I brought my cymbals from NYC and the snare and rotos are my SF set. Everything else was borrowed.
FLABmag: To what degree or extent does playing a different kit every night affect the over all quality of the music? Meaning how much does it divert from the original music and/or does it matter to you at all? Are you picky about your gear, I guess that’s what I’m asking.
Sebastian: As long as the stands (and throne!) work, honestly I’m much more concerned about the PA and the sound person than I am about the kit. With 10 minutes of tuning and with the triggers and moongels I can get any kit to work for me. But the PA and soundman is not something I have control over so I usually like to have a nice chat with him or her and a decent sound check.
FLABmag: The show was an interesting experience for me, as I was slightly unfamiliar with the Publicist oeuvre, so I wasn’t sure what types of people would show up, and I certainly didn’t expect them to be so rabid in their need to blow whistles, scream loudly and shove people who didn’t dance out of their way, but that’s what happened. It was kinda weird, the level of aggression directed at those who were say, more mild mannered and/or too shy to dance (or had a camera and needed to get sharp images in a very dark setting that required standing very still.). Since you were literally in the crowd did you notice the three or four people up front who were vehemently flopping about and alternately shoving others out of their way? Isn’t it kind of counter intuitive for party people to be so negatively aggressive towards those who might just enjoy the show in another, less showy way?
Sebastian: It’s meant to be a dance party, that’s is the goal of my music, it’s not meant for watching. I actually kind of hate it when people crowd around the kit and stare. Having said that there is no need for aggression! People should be friendly and invite you to dance. The thing is that most live shows feature people standing around watching and maybe people at the show were glad that something else was going on. But yeah aggression is not a good party ingredient.
FLABmag: Do you notice any differences in the European dance crowd as opposed to the U.S. crowd?
Sebastian: Well first of all dance music is much more varied and accepted in Europe than it is in America. In the US most people associate club music with douchebags and bankers but in Europe there are so many dance subcultures that you can always find one to suit your taste. But it’s hard to generalize because different shows in any one country can be so different. I will say that I make probably 90% of my money in Europe and they seem to appreciate me a lot more over there! I also have played some very nice venues/festivals over there, where as in America it’s usually little clubs.
FLABmag: Does wearing a glowing wristband and blowing a whistle enhance the Publicist appeal in any way?
Sebastian: Whatever gets people to come out of their shell is good. A Publicist show is meant to be a fantasy of dancing and flirting and sometimes people need a little help. And yeah I like whistles. I lived in Brazil for a bit as a kid and I remember my parents’ friends blowing whistles at parties.
FLABmag: Actually, for those who are less inclined to dance and maybe just want to hang out and watch you play do you think they should be forced to stand in the back (a big dude yelled at a short girl in the front to “take her ass to the back” if she wasn’t going to dance. I mean, does it matter to you, or bother you in any way, if someone is up in front just watching?
Sebastian: Yeah it kind of does bother me a bit. It just seems a little inappropriate, like talking loudly in a library. Or imagine someone at a comedy club sitting right in the front with their arms folded and not laughing, the comedian is definitely going to pick them out! There is a time and a place for everything. Also, one of the reasons I play on the floor is precisely so people can’t see me. I would rather they loose themselves in the music than watch, for their own sake! I want the crowd to watch the other dancers, and to dance with them and to flirt with them. But once again, I am not a fan of any kind of macho aggression; that also seems really out of place. The dancing should be friendly and usually is! I’ve never had any reports of that before.
FLABmag: Do you compose songs to specifically fit the genre of electronic dance music or is it something you are naturally inclined to and it (by no design of your own) dovetails into the genre?
Sebastian: This music does seem totally natural for me to do, but having said that DJs and clubs are incredibly specific when it comes to the many club music genres. So whether one likes it or not your music will be put in one of those genres. The game as a dance music musician is to make tracks that are (as a random example) “electro house” enough for an electro house DJ to play in his set but original enough to stand out. It’s all about context. Especially because a lot of dance music plays heavily with the whole new vs retro tension.
FLABmag: You mentioned an interest in the man/machine amalgam and Publicist is an extension of that interest. can you expand on that and how it affects your output?
Sebastian: Publicist is kind of the ultimate man machine experience for me. I’m literally strapped into a machine that just goes. The synths are already sequenced so if I stop playing drums they continue- I have to keep up! In my recorded material i always try to have a balance between sequenced things and live drums/percussion.
FLABmag: In one of the songs it sounded like you were singing “Dance You Awkward” which was appropriate for some of the exchanges I witnessed between guys and girls at the show. Is that in fact what I heard and how much of the lyrical content is mocking bromide?
Sebastian: Haha no there is no song with those lyrics! But that’s why I like the vocoder – it makes the words mysterious and people hear whatever they want.
FLABmag: Is this a project you will grow in tandem with Trans Am’s evolution?
Sebastian: It seems that right now the other Trans Am guys are slowing down as far as touring, so for about the last 2 or 3 years Publicist has definitely taken up more of my time than Trans Am. It’s like a slow cross fade from one to the other.
FLABmag: You seem to enjoy touring – I base that on your Facebook profile which indicates you are out and about in the world quite a lot. What do you like about it?
Sebastian: What’s not to like? I get to travel around playing my own music, getting paid for it, making friends, having fun, and having adventures. I do what I want when I want and when I’m at home all I do is work on new tracks. I feel very lucky. I also actually really enjoy touring by myself. I have friends in almost every city in the US and Europe now so I get to see them regularly. Traveling alone also gives me time by myself during the day, which is vital and you don’t that get when touring with a band.
FLABmag: How much beer and/or water does it take to keep a sweaty beast like you hydrated?
Sebastian: Yeah playing a set non-stop on drums and also singing is pretty sweaty. I usually drink beer only before or after the set. During the set I’ll have maybe one beer, but a bunch of waters.
FLABmag: I wanted to ask you about being a vegan the other night – I’m attempting it as a means of maintaining my current level of health, and maybe even improving it a bit, do you truly believe it helps boost energy levels? And, to what degree are you vegan? Do you eat a strict whole foods/whole grains diet (no oils, minimal heating of food)? Do you prepare food for yourself or eat out? If you go out a lot can you give us some suggestions for vegan restaurants around the world?
Sebastian: Yeah I’m pretty much 99% vegan but I’m sure there are some beers and wines or something like that I’ve had that aren’t vegan. It’s been so long (18 years!) that I can’t really compare energy levels before and after. But I’m 39; I play many shows a year, travel a lot, and take off my shirt in public, so whatever that’s worth… I’m not that strict about whole grains/raw food etc., especially on the road where the choices are limited. For me it was always more of an ethical decision than a health one. My one suggestion when traveling is that if you go to restaurants that aren’t based on northern European food you’ll have better luck!
FLABmag: What’s next for Sebastian Thomson; any big plans for the remainder of the year? For the next year coming up?
Sebastian: Well I have another EP release party tomorrow (the 22nd) in NYC, and then I do a 2-week tour with Trans Am (playing the Futureworld album). Then I play (solo) in NYC again, and CMJ, then I go back to Europe in November, and hopefully Australia/NZ in February. And I’m working on an album.